I’d bet at some point in time, many of us had thoughts (or just dreams) of playing some pro vball. Over the years, there have been some opportunities here in the US, but for the most part, to go pro indoors, you go overseas. I’m sure many college volleyball players and our current (and future) junior players will have this dream. But, what do you do? How does it work? We can point you to an article on the subject, but even it tells you to get some first-hand accounts. Here’s a first hand account from Sam Albus’ about his journey to a pro tryout in Slovenia.
As my experience in Europe is seemingly coming to a close, I can’t help but be confused about the mix of emotions I am feeling. I am disheartened by the way the tour was organized and run, yet thankful for the opportunity to participate in such an event. I am ecstatic to return home to see my friends and family, but I am saddened to leave such a diverse, beautiful place, left almost entirely unexplored. I am proud of my growth as a player in such a short time frame, but I am frustrated to depart empty handed. Although there is still a small hope to sign a contract and play this season, the odds grow longer as time goes on.
Prior to the tour, I was a bit nervous about my performance. I had recently recovered from a minor lower back injury and it had been months since I played at a high level, but I remained confident nonetheless. I embarked on my trip with high hopes – to travel abroad, play with and against teams throughout the continent, and eventually earn a contract – but it seems I was a bit too optimistic. I remain hopeful that I can earn a contract, but not with the company that provided this tour. Unfortunately, this agency advertised beyond what they actually provided and I was left frustrated by much of the experience. The players that signed up for this ‘exposure tour’ were promised exactly that: exposure. We were told that visiting coaches and scouts would observe our practices and matches. We were told that we would play both national and club teams from nearby countries. In reality, no one was there to watch us play and our matches were limited to volleyball clubs in Slovenia. Though my teammates and I were disappointed by this, we did our best to prove ourselves and earn the attention of anyone who might have interest. In many cases, a few of our players, including myself, outperformed the Slovenian players in our respective positions, but it became apparent that our agency was not doing much to promote us to teams. The tour has now been over for more than a week, and the remaining players and I have been able to find more training opportunities through our own personal connections. These teammates are definitely the best part of my experience. We grew very close in our time together and I strongly believe that we will all remain friends for many years to come.
From a volleyball perspective, this has all been quite eye-opening. Each member of our group was acclimated to the American (and in one case, Canadian) style of play and it took us awhile to adapt to how the Slovenians wanted us to play. A different pace, a different defensive scheme, and the biggest challenge, a different ball. The official ball of the FIVB (Federation Internationale de Volleyball, the international governing body for volleyball) (Mikasa) which is much lighter and has a different texture than the standard USAV ball (Molten), causing it to react completely unlike we expected it to. When your touch on the ball changes, it feels like the entire game changes. Most notably for me, it became much harder to jump serve accurately.
When it came to traveling, I was much more limited than anticipated. The tour happened entirely in Slovenia – primarily in Maribor with short visits to Ljubljana, Bled, and Nova Gorica. Ljubljana (the capital city) and Maribor are the two biggest towns in the country, though both were much smaller than any big city in America. Even Richmond dwarfs Ljubljana. Bled is the primary tourist destination here, and for good reason. You can walk around Lake Bled and view the crystal clear water, the castle perched upon the cliffside overlooking the lake, and the giant mountains of the Julian Alps in the backdrop. To the joy of our group, there were many phenomenal hikes/walks just a short bus ride away. After the tour, I headed to Venice, Italy with three of my teammates for a few days to relax and search for our next destination or opportunity. It was incredibly crowded with tourists (hypocritical, I know), which really diluted the enjoyment of experiencing such a lovely place. Two left, and the last remaining teammate and I returned to Nova Gorica, a small village not five minutes from the Italian border. I am actually writing this post from our hotel here. We made some friends while here the first time and were able to find a team to train with through those connections. Slovenia has been absolutely wonderful to us and we love it here. Nearly everyone speaks English and is very welcoming, the food is authentic and delicious, the level of play is competitive, and the cost of living is low. We will both close out our trip here and leave in a few days.
Through my experience here, some things have become evident that I wish I had known earlier. I will try to impart some of that knowledge to you so you do not make the same mistakes I did. If you are a player with aspirations of playing professionally, get a video camera and record all of your matches. The more footage, the better – you would rather have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. I had limited footage and hoped I would be able to prove my talent in person, but almost no one was watching. Which brings me to my next point. Find a reliable agent. Connections in the volleyball world are absolutely invaluable, so network yourself and try to find an agent with a good reputation for placing players. It is almost impossible to get a contract without an agent. The more connections your agent has, the better your chances. Lastly, know yourself and your limitations. I spoke with many players who have played overseas and there is one incredibly common experience – it gets really lonely. Even over this short duration, I have become homesick. Are you comfortable living in a new country for nine months? Are you comfortable making friends in an unfamiliar place? Are you willing to put in the time to learn another language? If things don’t go the way you planned, what will you do? You get my point; just do your best to consider everything!